By Peter Oliver
If you do not, from time to time, watch Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, you should. It can, in a chillingly well-crafted way, be eye-opening. For the safety of those around you, however, consume the show only in small helpings. If you watch for more than a couple of minutes at a time, you’re likely to start screaming and throwing things. Carlson, posturing pretentiously as the vox populi of an anti-elitist, pro-Trump cohort, seems determined to stir up as much hatred as possible among conservative Americans toward liberal Americans. His rants can, at best, be maddening – at worst, dangerous.
Start with a profound, underlying irony. The Carlson who rails against coastal elites comes from a classically coastal-elite background. Raised in a wealthy WASP family in California, he graduated from St. George’s, the elite Rhode Island prep school, before attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the preppiest colleges in the country. (Thrillist ranks it eighth, as a “bastion of prep privilege.”) Even today, as he rants against the coastal-elite establishment, his dress and hairstyle make him appear as if he just stepped out of a St. George’s classroom circa 1970.
At least by upbringing and birthright, then, he is hardly someone with everyman, salt-of-the-earth credentials. As with the boorish and corrupt Donald Trump, who mysteriously inspires fealty in the same constituency Carlson appeals to, Carlson has no connection whatsoever to the daily lives or aspirations of his audience. But that’s beside the point. As long as his ratings lead the nightly-opinion pack, he’ll keep acting out as a mouthpiece for heartland America.
To be fair, a strongly conservative viewpoint should be welcomed in the overall TV-news spectrum, as a balance to the liberal positions espoused by Carlson’s MSNBC counterparts, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. The problem is that Carlson isn’t trying to coalesce his viewers around a well-reasoned, conservative weltanschauung. The great bonding power of hate is his negotiable currency. The point of the show, it would seem, is to leave viewers seething at the evils perpetrated on the country by coastal liberals and seething at the evildoers themselves.
“Hate” is a word Carlson uses frequently. In the Carlson-verse, liberals hate America. They also hate Americans, i.e., Carlson’s regular viewers. Scroll the credits of America-hating liberals: financier George Soros, educated white women, black NFL footballers. The list goes on at length.
Tucker Carlson is a smart guy – much smarter, if less charismatic, than Trump, his fellow traveler in hate politics. His nightly harangues are structured with the crisp methodology of a debate-team leader at a place like St. George’s or Trinity. (It is not known here if he was on a debate team at either school.) Take a morsel of fact out of context, then build a much larger – and, often, alarmingly misleading – argument upon it.
An example: Carlson shows some horrible street-crime video – e.g., man robbing innocent passerby, then shooting that person point-blank – to confirm the abject state of moral decay in major American cities under Democratic leadership. Carlson knows, of course, that most of his regular viewers rarely visit these cities, much less live in them. Thus, Carlson’s audience can’t help but see America’s major cities as irredeemable cesspools of crime and depravity. Street crime in urban America is indeed problematic, but are the videos even close to being representative of the full spectrum of daily life and culture of these places? Of course not.
This leads to the touchy subject of racism. Carlson has been accused of being a racist, something he fervently denies, of course. Per his combative style, he regularly accuses liberals of using racism as a cheap shot with which to stigmatize America-loving conservatives.
But go back to those street-crime videos. The standard format features a young black man victimizing a defenseless white person. The unambiguous message: Blacks are criminals, beleaguered whites are victims. In addition, recent Black Lives Matter protests are deemed to have been much more violent and destructive than the “election justice protest” (Carlson’s term) of January 6. To prove it, he’ll show a video of black scofflaws streaming out of a looted store.
On the subject of immigration, Carlson is a regular purveyor of “demographic replacement” – the supposed effort by liberals to throw open the borders to a flood of immigrants of color, expecting them to become liberal voters. Red-flag warning, white conservatives: dark-skinned, un-American interlopers are taking over your beloved country! Democrats, Carlson claims, want the electorate swarming with “more obedient voters from the Third World.” He has bemoaned the predicament of once solidly white-majority towns – Hazelton, Pennsylvania, being a leading example – that have been culturally bulldozed by an influx of immigrants. The victims are what he calls “legacy [read: “white conservative”] Americans.”
It is hard to know what Carlson truly believes, since his views, always conservative-leaning, have shifted repeatedly during his 20-some years in the media. There was a time when he actually seemed reasonable. No more. And it can be presumed that the nightly hate-fest will continue as long as the show’s ratings remain high.
Building a wall of hatred between Americans hardly seems like a constructive approach to conservative politics. But for Carlson and Fox, it’s a moneymaker. Carlson’s hatefulness might not make him the responsible journalist he fancies himself to be, but so what? It is making him rich.
Oliver lives in Warren.